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Fixing the Hall

Hall of FameYou may have heard, the Hall of Fame is a mess. On a certain level, that’s why we started the Hall of Miller and Eric. But we still care about the one in upstate New York, so below is out plan to fix it. Enjoy.

Eric: Brighter minds than ours have written about the fustercluck that the BBWAA has managed to create on its Hall of Fame ballot. Between tighter standards for contemporary players, steroids, and the whole old-school/new-school war, things are getting a little zany. The BBWAA has yet to reform the process and seems unlikely to do so. The Hall itself tries to stay out of the fray, presumably because the BBWAA will get angry at it. We the fans get treated to multiple rounds of gridlock, and deserving players go unrecognized. It’s not getting better anytime soon with lots more candidates piling in during the coming years, many of whom are well-qualified but not the slam dunks that the writers are willing to actually vote for. What the Hall and the BBWAA really need is another couple of disgruntled bloggers to tell them what to do. So Miller and I will pretend we are in our mothers’ basements and share our concerns and our sage advice.

Miller: I’m a college professor in Speech Communication. And in my field, like almost all professional fields as I understand it, there’s this thing called professional development. We go to conferences and workshops so we can stay current in the field. And again, my field is Speech Communication – something that’s hardly changed since Aristotle! In what seems like another lifetime, I studied to become a personal trainer. To remain appropriately certified, I needed to keep taking classes. There was no one-time certification. And then we have members of the BBWAA. They aren’t required to learn that batting average, runs batted in, and pitcher wins aren’t the best measures of greatness. They aren’t required to use any objective measure of clutch. They aren’t required to understand advanced statistical measures. Hell, some of them take it as a badge of honor to ignore such numbers. And it’s hilarious to hear them talk about MVP and Cy support when they’re the very people who give players that support – right or wrong. They resort to talking about “fear” and “clutch” and “true ace” because those are abstract terms that people can’t call into question so easily. Pathetic. Just pathetic.

Are you happy with last week’s results?

Miller: I’m happy with what happened in general, yes. I’m happy that Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and Frank Thomas got what they richly deserved. I’m sad for Jack Morris and giddily happy that his supporters failed. I’m pretty upset about Rafael Palmeiro falling off the ballot though. He’s surely one of the 25 best 1B in the game’s history, and he might rank a lot higher than that. He deserves further consideration.

As for things that didn’t happen, I guess I’m okay if people gain or lose ground from one year to the next. With such a crowded ballot, I don’t know that losses this year mean a lot in the long term.

Eric: I am unhappy with the results. Electing the three obvious new candidates only means the writers passed a basic test of sentience. The average number of names per ballot increased by less than two, and the invisible majority continues to hold the election of numerous, obvious Hall of Famers hostage. Finally, the steroids issue has not begun to move towards any resolution, which further clogs up the ballot for everyone else. Happy for the Big Three, though.

 

Changes need to be made to improve the process in the future. Let’s start with ballots. Should they be secret or public?

Miller: They need to be public ballots. Transparency in the Hall process is critical.

Eric: Every voter must make their ballot public, or their vote isn’t tallied. All other BBWAA votes are public. This one should be too.

 

Voting rule 5 states, “Voting shall be based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.” Should anything be done about that?

Miller: I used to think the rule was fine. But writers have bastardized it so much. There’s no way it was intended to allow writers to moralize about candidates, though that’s exactly what’s happening. The rule either needs to be done away with or changed to something like, “Voting shall be based upon the player’s record, playing ability, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.” Remove all morality from our evaluation of baseball players.

Eric: Rule 5 doesn’t need changing. It’s always been enforced selectively. Look at the managerial class going in. The Hall, itself, doesn’t care about Rule 5 much. If it did, it wouldn’t have allowed the enshrinement of a wife beater and of probably the most steroid-enabling manager we know of—who also got caught for DUI and whose teams had a string of such offenses. The Hall has let Leo Durocher in despite his being banned a year for associating with gamblers. My point: The Hall should give some instruction to the electorate to the effect that innuendo isn’t enough, and starting steroid whisper campaigns is unacceptable. We can’t wipe out an entire generation. Positive test? I think that may be an acceptable application of Rule 5. Short of that, you’d better have a credible source on the record with back-up: this ain’t Salem. But also they ought to think long and hard about Gaylord Perry and Whitey Ford as well as about amphetamine usage in prior generations.

 

Currently there’s a rule that players must appear on 5% of ballots to remain in consideration the next year. Is this a good rule?

Miller: It’s not. In recent years we’ve seen credible candidates such as Rafael Palmeiro, Kenny Lofton, Bernie Williams, and Kevin Brown fall off the ballot when they really deserved more consideration. How about something like this:

Year 1:          1%
Year 2:          2%
Year 3:          3%
Year 4:          4%
Year 5:          5%
Year 6:          7%
Year 7:          9%
Year 8:          11%
Year 9:          13%
Year 10:        15%
Year 11:        18%
Year 12:        21%
Year 13:        24%
Year 14:        27%

I don’t know that mine is a good system. But it would do two things. First, it would allow candidates like Lofton and Bernie to build support. Second, it would remove from consideration down-ballot players like Don Mattingly, Dale Murphy, and Dave Parker. Those are guys who clog the ballot and take votes, but will never earn induction by the BBWAA.

Eric: The 5% rule could be reasonably changed to more of a sliding scale.

 

How about the 10-man ballot?

Miller: I really hate to make changes to fix a current problem that, first, can be solved without a change, and second, may cause bigger problems down the road. My 10-man ballot view is, sure, 10 is a blindly chosen number. However, it does offer an anchor. Without it, there’s going to be a lot more big-Hall, small-Hall controversy. And basically, I think less-than-deserving players will be able to get in. I think Morris would have been voted in this year had writers been able to vote for as many as they wanted.

Also, I think the current system, flawed as it is, can work out this glut by itself. Step one was getting Maddux, Glavine, and Thomas elected this year. Step two is getting Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, and Craig Biggio elected next year. If either John Smoltz or Mike Piazza goes in too, that’s even better. If we get at least three next year, the glut can begin to work itself out in 2016.

Eric: I see both sides of the 10-man issue. On one hand, given the current depth of the ballot, the electorate is not able to vote yes for all they may feel deserve enshrinement. Since the ballot is not intended to be rank-ordered but is a yes/no referendum on each guy, that’s a serious issue. On the other hand, a bigger ballot may encourage worse voting. Joe Sheehan has it right: the Balkanization over steroids is the big clog.

 

What did you think about the quality of Dan Le Batard’s ballot of Maddux, Thomas, Glavine, Piazza, Biggio, Edgar, Bagwell, Clemens, Bonds, and Schilling?

Miller: I might have preferred Mussina and Trammell to Edgar and Biggio. Or I might have voted strategically Biggio or Palmeiro. In any case, the ballot has ten names without Morris, Mattingly, or McGriff. I’m happy.

Eric: His/our ballot was excellent and would have nearly matched mine. Good job, fans!

 

Should Le Batard have had his voting privileges taken away?

Miller: I don’t know. Maybe. On one hand, the BBWAA rules say yes. On the other, the quick backlash against Le Batard continues to marginalize the writers. How dare Le Batard let non-members vote!

Eric: I think Le Batard made a more appropriate protest vote than Ken Gurnick or Murray Chass, for example. And his ballot had more integrity and rigor than, say, Dan Shaughnessey’s. Those guys and others like them bore no consequences. Le Batard knew what was coming, and the penalty was apt. I’d have done the same thing the BBWAA did. Le Batard was willing to take his lumps for the cause. Gotta give him that.

 

Should we reform the electorate?

Miller: Yes! Yes! Hell yes! But I have to admit that I don’t know what the right plan would be. I hate saying this, but I don’t really like the plans I’ve seen floated, and I can’t do better. So I won’t pretend to try.

On a positive note, let’s look at the SABR/old school debates over the last so many years:

1998: Ron Santo, loss
2006: Bruce Sutter, loss
2009: Jim Rice, loss
2011: Bert Blyleven, win
2014: Jack Morris, win

Tim Raines will be a victory. Alan Trammell will be a loss. Lee Smith will be a victory. I don’t think Fred McGriff, Jeff Bagwell, and Mike Piazza are wins or losses, though I think they’ll all go the way of the SABR. Curt Schilling and Mike Mussina will go too. While massive problems remain, I do believe we’re moving in the right direction in general.

I have no doubt that the BBWAA is the wrong electorate, but I do think they’re becoming somewhat less bad at their job.

Eric: The big problem here is pretty obvious, right? As a group, the writers are knuckleheads. Not even because of the hypocritical steroids gridlock, but because they can’t seem to tell the difference between great players and good players. For every Bert Blyleven, there’s a Jim Rice, Bruce Sutter, Kirby Puckett, Goose Gossage, Tony Perez. And the Jack Morris fetish. And the inability to see Trammell, Raines, and Schilling as obvious Hall of Famers. Oh, and dumping Kenny Lofton, Lou Whitaker, Keith Hernandez, and plenty others on the first ballot. Especially galling for a guy like me are the codgers who haven’t been in a clubhouse in twenty years and the ones still in the field who don’t actually cover baseball. Ever. How are those particular subsets of the electorate more qualified to vote than, oh, Miller and Eric?

I’m fine with the BBWAA participating in the vote, just not with them owning the vote. Here’s some specific reforms that I’d suggest. First, for the BBWAA itself:

1.) Every BBWAA voter must be actively covering the game to vote.

2.) The vote should be granted to other baseball media members, subject to accreditation, as well as to researchers and other experts. The wisdom of crowds approach benefits from diversity and numbers, and the world’s greatest players deserve to be considered by the most informed, modern, and high-quality electorate possible.

To start with, I, like many others, would include current MLB broadcasters. So that’s the local radio and TV guys, including Spanish-language announcers. And, like with the writers, they must meet requirements for being active. The local guys add maybe as many as 75 to the actual voting pool. And we’ll have a big infusion of people who actually watch games and interact with teams. I do recognize that we then may allow some Rex Hudlers in, but I would prefer him to guys covering golf for a living.

There is a third kind of media member we should include, and that is the independent. This would include writers/contributors to websites or blogs who are not already members of other voting groups. This would necessitate the formation of an association or body to vet and accredit those sites and the members of those sites who may petition for a vote. They, too, should have serve some time and be active. This group would include the likes of FanGraphs, BBREF, Baseball Prospectus, Hardball Times, Bill James Online, ESPN.com, MLB.com, Grantland, Seamheads.com, etc…. Anyplace online that does serious baseball coverage. The independent group should also include studio analysts. So Brian Kenney, yes. And, yes, John Kruk, Harold Reynolds, and Mitch Williams. As always, they are subject to accreditation.

One other group that should get a vote is baseball researchers and historians. John Thorn and Pete Palmer, for example, know more about baseball than about 99.99% of the world will forget. There aren’t tons of those guys, but they merit a vote as well, and were I the Hall, I would put SABR in charge of creating a way to accredit these voters.

There is one final group that I believe wants to participate and should. That group is called Everyone Else. Players, managers, Hall of Famers, scouts, front office people, my mailman, the guy at the grocery store with the funny mustache, cranky retired BBWAA members, and, yes, you and me. The awful truth of democratic institutions is that we aren’t all well-qualified to provide input. More importantly, the Web is the only good way to poll this group, and it is subject to mobocratic manipulation. But the Deadspin vote-buy this year provides a useful example to follow. Everyone Else’s vote could count as a single ballot. Or as one percentage point of all ballots, that is, if there are 500 other ballots, Everyone Else’s vote would be worth five ballots. We can play with the details, but the point is that we be inclusive but only to a certain, tiny degree. There are ways out there to control for simple vote-rigging schemes (use a landing page that requires sign in; limit one ballot per IP address; etc.). The point is that we all get a say, if we want it, even if it is essentially token. Because being part of the solution and the dialogue helps one of the Hall’s constituencies express their opinion directly and contribute.

On total reform…

While the BBWAA front-door vote needs some repairs, we’ve already put forth a VC reform plan. The two reforms should be seen as one. We know the BBWAA is stricter than the VC, and probably too strict. We also know that the VCs are made up of guys who are either just like the BBWAA or just like the Joe Morgan Superfriends electorate that failed to elect anyone. Bobby Grich and Lou Whitaker, to name two, have no chance for the fair hearing they deserve with this setup. As a last-resort, the VC needs to be that much better informed about the game’s history and even about advanced analytics. Whitey Herzog and Bert Blyleven (who were on the Expansion Era Committee this year) are not likely to be historians and researchers. They know their own period in a very narrow way, why would we expect them to be able to place players in a larger historical perspective. The back door is about catching mistakes and overlooked players, but they’d need to be able to see the overlooked first.

There. Everything’s fixed.

Miller and Eric

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